The Insolvency Service has decided not to commence criminal proceedings over P&O Ferries’ decision to sack 800 crew and replace them with agency workers on below minimum wage rates.
The dismissals by P&O Ferries, owned by ports and shipping giant DP World, in March 2022 brought condemnation from all political parties and unions and was initially described by ministers as illegal.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps and Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanded the resignation of P&O Ferries’ boss Peter Hebblethwaite and announced proposals designed to ensure ferry companies had to pay minimum wage to crews. But these have not so far been enacted.
The TUC said in response to the Insolvency Service’s decision that it would be “shocking if there is no justice for P&O workers”.
An Insolvency Service spokesperson said: “After a full and robust criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the employees who were made redundant by P&O Ferries, we have concluded that we will not commence criminal proceedings.
P&O Ferries scandal
“The Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy asked the Insolvency Service to investigate whether any offences had been committed in relation to P&O Ferries’ dismissal of 786 employees on 17 March 2022.
“The offence alleged was failure to notify in accordance with section 193 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 contrary to section 194(1) of that Act.
“The Insolvency Service conducted a criminal investigation, which was reviewed by an independent senior prosecution lawyer in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, who concluded there was no realistic prospect of a conviction.”
However, added the spokesperson, a civil investigation by the Insolvency Service remains in progress.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the sackings were “a shocking case of mistreatment of working people. And it will be shocking if there is no justice for P&O workers through serious consequences for the firm’s directors under current laws.
“Our laws should protect working people from companies that brazenly flout the rules and treat staff like disposable labour. The Insolvency Service must give a clear explanation for this decision. And government ministers must commit to strengthening the laws to better protect working people and to severely punish firms that behave like P&O.”
DP World on Wednesday reported a record profit of £603m for the first six months of this year, an increase of nearly 52% compared with the same period in 2021.
“We are delighted to report a record set of first-half results,” said DP World boss Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem.